Two quick things before we get to the main interest of today.
First, notice that the resurrection is clearly identified as happening on Sunday.
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
This will be important in things we will discuss later.
Second, notice that the first witnesses to the resurrection are women. This is important to help establish the historical nature of the account. If the first century the testimony of women was not accepted. If someone wanted to make up a story it would be very unlikely that they would place women as the first witnesses of the pivotal moment. By recording women as the first witness Matthew is showing deference to truth and historical accuracy. It also shows the old way of thinking, of women as second class citizens has already begun to fall by the wayside.
The Great Commission
The climax of Matthew’s gospel is the great commission of the Apostles. Several important things are established in this passage.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
First, notice that there are 11, not 12 disciples. We know Judas has committed suicide. We also know from the book of Acts that his office will soon be filled by Mathias. We know that from then on Mathias was considered among the 12 and had the role of Apostle. This shows that Jesus extended the great commission to the 11 and that they had the authority to extend the great commission to Mathias. The apostles are a group that extends their mission into the future. They can raise up people to join their ranks and pass on the authority that has been given to them.
Second, notice that the great commission happens on a mountain in Galilee. Remember, in the bible important things happen on mountains. Noah got off the Ark at the top of a mountain. Abraham went up a mountain to sacrifice Isaac. Moses went up Mt Sinai to get the Ten Commandments. Jesus was transfigured on top of a mountain. He was crucified on the top of Golgotha. Thus, this is not just Jesus “tying up loose ends”. It is not Jesus just giving the Apostles something to do. This event stands in salvation history among all the highpoints. It is an event on par with the other events.
Third, notice that even though they see Jesus alive and resurrected some still doubted. Faith is a journey, even for the most holy men. Doubts may rise up, even in the face of strong evidence. The important thing is to be steadfast through those times. Jesus said, “he who endures to the end will be saved”. Take what you learned and what you decided and what in felt in times of great faith and let it nourish you in times of doubt.
Fourth, Jesus says that all authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to him. Then he says, “go therefore …” The great commission is made under Jesus’ authority. The Apostles can go out and preach in his name because of their relationship with Jesus. The Apostles can preach with the authority of Jesus.
Fifth, Jesus says the Apostles should, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” This is the clearest expression of the Trinity. Jesus would not say to baptize in the name of anyone other than God. Therefore, all three persons of the trinity must be God.
Sixth, why would Jesus tell us to do something that is unimportant or ineffective? The answers is of course, He wouldn’t. Jesus has replaced that old Mosaic Law and sacrifices with the new effective sacrifice and the gospel. If the old was ineffective (or only effective b/c God allowed it to be so) then baptism, which Jesus here commands to be done, must be effective (or more effective). It must have some purpose and some actual effect on us. Jesus would not tell us to do something that wasn’t necessary for salvation. Over the centuries the Church has discerned that baptism cleanses the soul of original sin and unites us to the body of Christ.
Seventh, Jesus then says, “…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The great commission is to TEACH. The Apostles are not commissioned to write books or letters. Their authority is to teach, to say what the Gospel is. We saw some of this in Matthew 16 and 18 where the Apostles are given the power to bind and loose. They have the authority to explain the meaning of the things Jesus said and did and they have the ability to pass on this authority.
Eighth, finally Jesus says, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The promise can and should be read broadly as that Jesus will be with all of us always. However, it can and should also be read specifically, as a promise to be with this group of men. Not just the twelve but the group of men who make up the leadership of the Church. Jesus is saying that in this job that he is giving them, to baptize and teach, He will help them in this job. If fact, we can go as far as to say it is not a thing that they will do but a thing that Jesus will do through them. This promise is permanent. It is “until the end of the age”. Thus, there is not time, no matter how dark the world appears, that Jesus is not with the group of men that make up the leadership of the Church. Even when they do things that are undoubtedly sinful Jesus is still carrying out the teaching of the Gospel through the Church. We see this in Acts, when Paul rebukes Peter for not practicing what he was preaching. Peter’s failure did not end Peter’s apostleship. Peter’s failure did not prevent him from writing two books of the bible. Jesus promise to be with the leadership of the Church until the end of the age is stronger than man’s ability to mess it up.